McCormick & Company

Food and Beverage

"Spice giant McCormick has agreed to stop selling its spices to Iran, following the efforts of a Baltimore Jewish activist. Jay Bernstein, an attorney and community activist, read in The New York Times article last December that despite sanctions against Iran, the U.S. Treasury was still allocating licenses to American companies to conduct business with the Islamic Republic. One of those companies, he learned, was the Baltimore-based McCormick & Co., founded in 1889 by a Jewish immigrant. 'It seemed that what we could do is draw attention to McCormick and get them to reconsider,' Bernstein said... Jim Lynn, McCormick’s director of corporate communications, told the Baltimore Jewish Times that McCormick distributes its spices to some 100 countries. But he said the company could not get assurances by certain parties that the products would not be sold by companies connected in some ways to companies that had been blacklisted, so McCormick decided not to sell in Iran." (JTA, "McCormick stopping spice sales to Iran," 4/13/11)


"McCormick & Company was licensed to sell a range of products, including spices, seasonings, salt substitutes, dips, marinades, food colorings, edible cake decorations, icings, imitation vanilla extract and salad toppings, to a number of stores in Iran under the broadly written exemption for agricultural products. Though OFAC and the State Department are required by law to vet the companies that are buying even benign products to make sure they are not involved in international terrorism, The New York Times found that a number of the Iranian companies listed on the application as the end purchasers of McCormick's goods were in fact connected to entities that the United States has blacklisted for their involvement in Iran's nuclear and ballistic weapons programs and connection to terrorist activities. Take Refah, the largest supermarket chain in Iran. Its shareholders, according to Refah's website, include the Iranian Bank of Saderat, and Bank of Sepah, the Bank of Melli and Bank Tejarat. The Bank of Saderat was blacklisted by OFAC for serving as a conduit between the Iranian government and various terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas. The Bank of Sepah was blacklisted for serving as 'the financial linchpin' of Iran's efforts to procure a 'missile capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction.' The Bank of Melli and Bank Tejarat were blacklisted for similar activities. Shahrvand, another of the chain stores listed in the McCormick license application, is owned by the government of Tehran. Both Refah and Shahrvand were once run by Ali-Akbar Mehrabian, according to the Iranian press. Mr. Mehrabian is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's minister for industries and mines, and a close adviser believed to be instrumental in smoothing the way for the sale of government-owned assets to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, an arm of the Iranian military that the United States has also blacklisted for its involvement in the Iranian nuclear program. And a third chain store, Ghods, is closely linked with the Guards; many top officials in the organizations are former Guards officers. A McCormick spokesman, Jim Lynn, said that the company has held this license for several years, but that 'we were not aware of the information you shared with us, and we are looking into it.' OFAC's director, Adam J. Szubin, acknowledged that it did not appear as though background checks had been done in this case. But, he said, given his limited resources, they were better spent on stopping weapons technology from reaching Iran. 'Are we checking end users? Yes. But are we doing corporate due diligence on every Iranian importer? No,' Mr. Szubin said. 'I don't think that would be the best use of our Farsi speakers and our Iranian intelligence analysts.' He added that even if the links had come to light, he still might not have had the authority to deny the license. That's because Congress drafted the law mandating that licenses be issued for agricultural products in such a way that they can be denied only if it can be shown that the purchasers are more than 50 percent owned by entities engaged in terrorism." (New York Times, "Licenses Granted to U.S. Companies Run the Gamut," 12/24/10)